Category Archives for "Isolated Track"

Lorde “Royals” Isolated Vocals

royals-lordeWhen Lorde broke on the scene in 2013 with “Royals” the song was met with positive critical acclaim and the singer immediately built a huge fan base that embraced her minimalist sound. That sound is somewhat deceiving though, because even though the backing track doesn’t contain many elements, Lorde’s vocals are far more complex than you might think from a casual listen. Take a listen to the isolated vocals to see what I mean.

As an interesting aside, the song’s title and lyrical hook is actually named after the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Lorde saw an image of the Royals hall of fame great George Brett on a 1976 copy of National Geographic and decided the name was cool (how she saw such an old magazine is unclear), and it provided the inspiration for the song.

Here’s what to listen for.

1. Check out the nice delayed reverb. The delay is pretty long and so is the reverb tail, which is pretty much needed to fill the spaces in a minimalist arrangement like this one. It’s also pretty dark so it adds a nice glue to the track.

2. The background vocal arrangements are very sophisticated and Lorde is excellent when it comes to singing with herself. There are also some difficult harmonies that she pulls off perfectly.

3. The vocals are pretty compressed, and you can hear the compressor pulling during the choruses, which are sung with much more intensity than the verses.

4. The second verse develops nicely thanks to a combination of simple and stacked harmonies, as well as a slight melody change.

5. Unlike just about everything on the charts today, the lead vocal isn’t doubled, which is very refreshing sound.

6. You hear the finger snaps and lots of phasing artifacts throughout the video. I suspect this isolated track was created by playing with the phase of the track to eliminate everything but the elements that were panned to the center during the mix. The phasing sound is byproduct of the process.

Britney Versus Ariana Isolated Live Vocals

Britney Isolated Live VocalI must admit that whenever I watch the huge stage show of dancers that accompany many popular female singers today, I have mixed feelings. First of all, I’m in awe of the sheer athletic ability now required to be considered a “singer” today. Those moves aren’t easy to remember or execute, but it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to sing at the same time, as some isolated live vocals have shown us.

A big part of me (okay, let’s be honest – all of me) would rather see the performer just stand there and try to carry the audience on vocal ability alone.

That’s not going to happen, and I’m the audience that they’re trying to reach anyway, so it’s a moot point. That said, most, if not all, of these vocalists have real chops, and that’s why it really hurts when you hear less than a great effort from anyone regardless of the circumstances.

That’s just what you’ll hear in this isolated vocal during Britney Spears portion of an HBO special. It’s from 2009, but it’s still no excuse.

It’s hard to call her a “singer” after a performance like that. The said part is that she really did have chops at one point in here career, as this clip of a very young Britney shows.

Contrast that to a Ariana Grande, who is the real deal. She does the moves yet not only stays in tune, but belts it out of the park.

Let’s see – which one has their priorities in the right order between singing, dancing and looking good? These isolated live vocals usually won’t sound as good as from the studio, but we really shouldn’t be surprised when they’re either way below, or exceed our expectations.

Steve Miller “Fly Like An Eagle” Isolated Vocal

Steve_Miller_Band_Fly_Like_an_EagleThe Steve Miller Band has been going strong for almost 50 years now, and if you hear them live today, they’re better than ever. That said, most of Steve’s hits came in the 70s, but they’re still played heavily today and just about everyone knows them from countless plays on the radio.

It’s very easy to forget that even though his songs were somewhat Top 40 in nature, for the most part they were really well-made, especially give the time. Today we’ll listen to the isolated vocal tracks from one of his most famous hits – “Fly Like An Eagle.” The song was covered a number of times by artists like Seal and even The Neville Brothers, and has been used on commercials by the US Postal Service.

Here’s what to listen for (it begins at 0:15):

1. The vocal has a nice medium-long delayed reverb that’s pretty dark so it blends into the track very easily.

2. The vocal is doubled very closely, which was somewhat unusual for a recording in 1977, since the production concept of “tight” was much normally looser than this.

3. The vocals are also compressed very heavily, and although you don’t hear it in the final mix, you can clearly hear compression artifacts when it stands alone.

4. One thing about Steve Miller records is that they’re very disciplined when it comes to the parts. There are very few ad libs, and “Fly Like An Eagle” is a great example, as every note is in precisely the right place with nothing more added.

5. Another thing to notice is that there’s not a lot of leakage or noise. You can hear some faintly in the distance, as well as the inevitable tape hiss of the time, but the disciple extends to recording as well.

“Fly Like An Eagle” is actually a very modern production, even though it was made way back in 1977. Except for the slick automation that adorns all mixes of today, this is a song that still holds up very well.

Aerosmith “Walk This Way” Isolated Guitar Track

Joe_Perry_of_AerosmithAerosmith is one of those bands that seems to get better with age. If you go back and listen to some of their earlier tracks, they were always fairly unique and came from an interesting place that never seems dated. “Walk This Way” from their Toys In The Attic album has been a hit several times, so it’s very cool indeed to be able to listen inside the mix to Joe Perry’s isolated guitar track. Here’s what to listen for:

1. As far as the guitar sound, it’s not what you think. According to Perry on, “For “Walk This Way,” I used a late-’50s Stratocaster Tobacco Sunburst with a stand-alone Ampeg V4 amp on top with a Marshall 4-by-12 speaker cabinet on the bottom. I also used a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone to give the notes a little distortion.”

2. The verse guitar is doubled fairly closely, but is still loose enough rhythmically to give it some feel. The one on the right is a little straighter and less active. What’s cool is that it sounds like two separate guitars most of the time, but the few times when the guitars play identically it sounds like its one guitar up the middle.

3. During the chorus you can hear a third guitar in the center playing the high answer chord.

4. The first solo has the long reverb that’s probably on most of the other tracks. The outro solo has a very short room effect that turns out to be from the hallway behind the Record Plant’s Studio C.

5. There’s a flub on the left guitar during the 3rd verse at around 1:38. Ever hear it in the final mix? Me neither. The right guitar also changes it up a little at 1:44, also missed in the mix. Also, the turnaround to the 4rth chorus at 2:20 seems a little uncertain, like it caught him by surprise.

It’s really a treat to hear isolated guitar tracks from some of the songs that you’ve heard for years. Listening inside the mix just never gets old.

(Photo: Harmony Gerber via Wikipedia)

Motown’s Funk Brothers Instrumental Track – “Going To A Go Go”

Going To A Go Go Instrumental TrackThere’s so much to learn from the old Motown records in terms of arrangements and groove. You can hear more when you strip off the lead vocal and just listen to the instrumental track laid down by The Funk Brothers (the Motown house band), which is what we’ll do today with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 1965 hit “Going To A Go Go.” Here’s what to listen for.

1. This was the early days of stereo when all you had available for panning on consoles was hard left and half-left, hard right and half-right, and center. As a result, most instruments are panned in one of those left or right positions except for the bass. Most instruments are panned in the half positions (about 10:30 and 1:30), drums are left, tambourine right, guitars  and horns right. Ad lib vocals and claps are hard left and piano and the sax solo is hard right.

2. The guitar sound is very interesting because its three guitar players all playing the same line, so it sounds like a huge 12 string.

3. The long and smooth Motown reverb blends everything together.

4. There’s some background vocals that you don’t hear that well on the final mix that can be clearly heard here, like the “Go go’s” during the second verse, the “ooh’s” answering the sax solo. and the “Come on’s” during the third verse.

5. What’s interesting is the drums are fairly buried in the mix and its the claps and tambourine that carry the groove of the song.

6. James Jamerson’s bass plays a very disciplined line that doesn’t vary much, which is very different from other Motown records that he played on.

All in all, this is another great example of why Motown’s Detroit-made hits were so appealing. When you had a studio full of great musicians playing at the same time, coupled with some great songs and arrangements, it’s hard to go wrong and listening to this instrumental track shows why.

Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” Isolated Backing Tracks

Don't fear the reaper coverThere’s been a lot of hits from the past that you continue to hear on the radio, but a perennial favorite is “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” from Blue Oyster Cult. The song comes from the band’s 1976 album Agents of Fortune album, where it hit #12 on the Billboard charts and has been around ever since. You’ve probably heard the song hundreds of times, but you’re probably not aware of some of the very interesting things that are going on inside the mix that you don’t readily hear. Pull up some headphones and take a listen to the following.

1. The clean guitar playing the lead riff, which comes in the second time through the riff (which you don’t hear here).

2. This song is famous for its cowbell (thank you Saturday Night Live), but the percussion instrument that really stands out is the guiro (as seen on right). guiro

3. The organ shadows the vocals. Here you can hear the organ leaning to the left, and the low harmony leaning to the right.

4. There’s what sounds like a clavinet playing whole notes in the B section.

5. In the bridge you can hear the doubles of the clean arpeggiated guitar and distorted guitar riff.

6. At the end of the bridge there’s a synth that doubles the feedback guitar (which you can’t hear here).

7. On the outro there’s an new keyboard shadowing the main chord pattern.

8. If you listen to the end, you’ll hear the ending that didn’t make the final mix on the record.

All in all, a very cool version of some buried in the mix isolated backing tracks that will have you listening to the track differently the next time you hear it.

Kansas “Carry On My Wayward Son” Isolated Guitar Tracks

Carry on my wayward son isolated guitar“Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas has been burned into our minds thanks to 40 years of constant airplay, so it’s fun to listen inside the song to what’s really going on. Here’s its isolated guitar tracks, and you’ll be surprised with at least some of them.

As with just about any hit, there’s a lot more that’s going on than you ever thought. Here are some things to listen for (it starts at 0:17).

1. The main intro  as well as the bridge lead line is closely doubled with an extra guitar playing accents an octave higher.

2. An acoustic guitar enters on the second half of the first verse at 1:26 playing a very nice counterpoint melody. This comes back in for the entire second verse as well. You usually don’t here this clearly on the final mix.

3. There’s a clean (sounds like it’s direct) arpeggiated electric guitar with a nice room sound that enters during the chorus. Again, it’s not something that you hear well on the final mix.

4. The lead guitar harmonies at the end of the intro and the end of the song are very cool.

It’s interesting to hear how well these isolated guitar parts were executed in the song, which was not exactly standard production technique for 1975 when the song was recorded. You can tell that the band was well-rehearsed and played well together thanks to the hundreds of gigs they played together beforehand.

Stevie Wonder “Superstition” Isolated Clavinets

Stevie Wonder SuperstitionHow many times have you heard a cover band play Stevie Wonder’s seminal “Superstition” and think, “That doesn’t sound like the record.” One of the reasons why is because there’s more than one clavinet on the track, a fact that’s usually overlooked by the band. In fact, according to Bob Margouleff (who recorded and co-produced the song – hear him talk about working with Stevie on my Inner Circle Podcast episode #78) there are actually 4 clavinets on the track, and in today’s video you can hear them clearly.

1. The clav track on the left during the verse is the signature line that everyone knows.

2. The clav track on the right plays counterpoint to the signature track, and is actually key to the sound of the record (and the part that no one ever plays).

3. During the B-section there are two new clav sounds that replace the verse clavinets, one on each side, that are much softer sounding.

4. Listen for the amplifier noise (no directs used here) on the intro of the track, and Stevie singing in the background during the breaks.

The Who “Baba O’Riley” Isolated Track

The Who Baba O'Riley isolated trackThe Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is one of the most played tracks in the entire band’s catalog, to the point were just about every fan (and non-fan’s alike) know each note and part by heart. That’s why today’s isolated track is so cool. It strips away the arpeggiated synthesizer and, in some parts, the piano, to give you a clear listen as to what’s going on deep inside the mix. Here are some things to listen for:

1. The reverb on the vocal is pretty short, unlike many Who mixes. It’s also delayed so the vocal stands out a bit more.

2. The drums are in stereo, but have an unusual balance, with the snare and most of the kit leaning right and the ride and a crash leaning left. On the tom fill at 1:33 you can hear the rack tom on the left as well. Keith Moon also rarely plays the hat during the song, instead bashing the cymbals throughout, something that a producer would no doubt change today.

3. The big guitar power chords in the verse (0:51) are doubled and maybe even tripled, which you don’t notice in the full mix.

4. The outro starting at 3:11 sounds much different without the violin.  You definitely get to appreciate Moon’s prowess with his dynamics and machine gun snare roll.

As always, there’s always a lot of cool production techniques to be learned from an isolated track, and this one is no exception.

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Toto “Rosanna” Isolated Drums, Keys And Horns

Toto_-_RosannaToto_-_RosannaThe band Toto has some of the most acclaimed studio musicians as members, which is why it’s always a pleasure to listen inside one of their songs. Today we’ll take a listen to the isolated drums, keyboards and horns from the Grammy-winning song “Rosanna.” This one’s a real treat! Here’s what to listen for:

1. The late great Jeff Porcaro is on drums playing a version of the half-time “Purdie shuffle” feel. The isolated drums lets you hear why he was one of the most in-demand session drummers ever, with rock solid time and a feel that pushes the track along perfectly. His drums sound great, with just a touch of reverb for ambience.

2. The arrangement is based around David Paich’s (another great session player) piano, which starts in a middle register and moves up an octave for the B section of the song, then back down for the C section and chorus. It also has a nice stereo spread with the left hand panned to about 9 o’clock and the right at around 1:30.

3. Listen to the way Steve Porcaro’s synthesizer strategically weaves in and out of the song. It’s mostly on an organ patch, but you can hear the patch morph into a string patch at the end of the chorus.

4. In the solo section around 3:20, percussion is added that gives that section some movement.

5. Check out the horn section on the turnaround to each chorus and playing a fill line in the chorus. It’s a section of 2 saxes, 2 trumpets and a trombone that are doubled and panned in stereo.

6. The outro jam is a real treat.

If ever there was a track that let you hear why the guys in Toto were all first call session players, this is it.